From urban oases to artist ateliers in Weißensee and Prenzlauer Berg, Souvenir Official founder David Mallon takes us on a bike tour of the Berlin districts that inspire his utopian visions of the future.
Standing in front of an inconspicuous villa with a crumbling facade, designer David Mallon prepares to set off on a cycling tour of Weißensee and its neighbouring areas. The east Berlin district is famed for being the home of writer Bertolt Brecht—whom Mallon identifies strongly with—between 1949 and 1953. “I think I like him because of his rebelliousness,” says Mallon, laughing, before citing his favorite quote from the German playwright. “‘The enthusiasm for nature comes from the uninhabitability of cities.’ To me, this emphasizes the importance of finding a balance between the excitement of city life and the tranquility of nature.”
Dutch e-Bike brand VanMoof and Friends of Friends have come together to produce “Cities & Beyond,” a new editorial series exploring urban areas and neighbourhoods that are subject to constant change. By interviewing creative opinion leaders during a bike rides around their home cities, the series aims to showcase first-hand perspectives, opinions, and visionary ideas on current urban trends, challenges, and utopias.
Having founded the fashion label Souvenir Official ten years ago, Mallon recently made headlines by producing the first few hundred EUnify sweaters—dark blue hoodies featuring the EU logo with one of the stars missing in response to Brexit. The politically-driven products, which Mallon calls “opinion wear,” reflect the brand’s threefold motto: Support movements. Have Opinions. Take Action. “It’s about making people think. In the end, we all have the potential to influence each other. I would like to inspire people to shape the world’s future together.”
This socially-minded spirit is indicative of Mallon’s Berlin birthplace—a city that is no stranger to political protest—which he still calls home to this day. “I like to get out of the city, but I always like coming back too. Berlin is a safe harbor”, he says. “You can’t find many cities that have such an exciting level of cultural diversity and so many green spaces. Here it is possible to go for a quick cycle and be at a lake within half an hour. To me, that’s total freedom.”
“In the end, we all have the potential to influence each other. I would like to inspire people to shape the world’s future together.”
Mallon demonstrates the easy access to nature that Berlin provides through the route he takes on his bike tour. Setting off from the villa, he cycles up a noisy main road, arriving at the green oasis of Weißensee’s eponymous lake only a few moments later. A popular destination for Berliners who want to experience nature just outside the city, the lake has also been a special place for nature loving Mallon since childhood. Snowboarding, surfing, and cycling in particular also gave him a sense of freedom from a young age. “As I lived on the outskirts of the city, my bike became a symbol of autonomy for me. I think this feeling still shapes my habits,” he explains as he starts to ride around the water’s edge.
As the tour continues through the “Dutch Kiez” of Berlin Weißensee, Mallon proceeds to cycle past red-brick houses reminiscent of the streets of Amsterdam. Then, as he turns right onto Lehderstraße, he is confronted with a variety of small industrial courtyards, including stonemasons’ and carpenters’ studios, as well as the atelier of Jonas Brugert. Brugert, a figurative and narrative painter, moved to Weisensee a few years back, transforming a small industrial courtyard on the street he now calls home into one of Berlin’s most exciting creative hubs. “During Berlin Art Week”—an international art festival taking place in the German capital each year—“this was definitely where the most exciting parties took place,” says Mallon, who is also currently looking to rent a new studio space around the neighborhood. “I think Weißensee has the potential to become a new vibrant area in the future.“
“I think that people can be inspired to consider topics such as sustainability, urban development, and mobility through good design.”
After stopping for a drink in the Bauhaus-inspired Eckstein Café in Carl Legien, Mallon continues his cycle towards Prenzlauer Berg, the Berlin district neighbouring Weißensee that, despite gentrification and rising rents, is still filled with many artists and creatives. Once again, the surroundings are a mix of the urban and the natural. Mallon passes Ernst Thälmann Park, for example, an inner-city park comprising residential buildings, green lawns, and a cultural center. Further along, he stops in front of a brick building with a tall tower that reads “Pumping station XI Radial System.” Originally a water pumping station erected in 1909, the tower is now home to the workspace of German artist Jonathan Meese. Considered the enfant terrible of the German art scene, Meese has worked with fellow rebel Mallon on a variety of projects, his socially critical approach to art making him a perfect collaborator for the designer.
“I see the present time as a chance to think about utopias. In my eyes Berlin would do well to be a little more courageous.”
The next stop on the bike tour is the Volksbühne theatre in Berlin’s Mitte district. Now dedicated to experimental theatre, it is one of the city’s primary platforms for artists and critical voices to express themselves and present their visions of a better future. For Mallon, a better future would mean Berlin becoming the greenest city in the world. “I see the present time as a chance to think about utopias. In my eyes Berlin would do well to be a little more courageous,” he says. One step towards achieving this would be to reduce the amount of pollution-inducing traffic in the city by encouraging people to switch from petrol to push bikes. To motivate people to make this change, Mallon believes that they need to clearly understand the reasons why increased cycling numbers would improve the quality of life of all of Berlin’s inhabitants. “If everyone did it we’d see unimaginable changes,” he says, citing better air quality and a healthier population as two potential positive outcomes.
“If we recognize and exploit the full potential of the city now, this could give rise to incredible possibilities in the future.”
As Mallon arrives at VanMoof’s bike shop in Berlin Mitte, the penultimate stop of his cycle, he describes how he initially struggled with working in fashion, an industry he felt was moving too slowly towards more sustainable methods of production. But now, with his own brand, he feels like he has found his own niche, focusing on creating politically-charged garments. “I think that people can be inspired to consider topics such as sustainability, urban development, and mobility through good design,” he says. This is a belief that unites VanMoof and Souvenir Official, as whether it be by encouraging people to consider more sustainable and healthier methods of transport or encouraging individuals to literally wear their opinions on their sleeve, both brands seek to stimulate positive change for a better future.
The last stop on the tour is Souvenir Official’s Torstraße store, which has operated in the same location for the past 20 years. Having recently reopened after a period of re-branding and refurbishment, the store’s rejuvenation is almost a symbol of Mallon’s own personal development, and how he has evolved from a young Brechtian rebel to an established entrepreneur. This being said, his rebellious, idealistic streak remains, as he continues to dream of a better future for his beloved home city. “If we recognize and exploit the full potential of the city now, this could give rise to incredible possibilities in the future.”
David Mallon is a Berlin based designer and the founder of Souvenir Official. The international brand creates politically charged garments inspiring customers to dream of a better world.
This article was created in collaboration with the Dutch e-Bike brand VanMoof for “Cities & Beyond,” a new editorial series interviewing creatives and visionaries about urban trends, challenges, and utopias.
If you’d like to try out Mallon’s cycle yourself, head over to our Komoot page to find a map of the route.
Text: Lena Heiss
Photography: Marina Denisova